You miss the excitement of NFL football? You want hard-hitting action? You want huddles, blind-side hits, turnovers, punts?
Check out the executive suites at the network sports divisions.
In the absence of working NFL athletes -- or because of the absence, actually -- the people who broadcast sporting events in this country have done most of the sweating lately. A few, such as Ted Turner's rookie network in Atlanta, have also been running most of the offensive plays.
Last weekend, NBC gave us Canadian football and CBS reran Super Bowl XVI. CBS did slightly better than NBC, but the total ratings were down two-thirds from what they were on a typical 1981 NFL Sunday. The total number of sets in use also declined. At the networks, which together will pay $2.07 billion over the next five years for NFL action, this can only go on so long before it really starts to hurt.
This week, the Turner Broadcasting System's sports programming mogul, Robert Wussler of superstation WTBS-TV-17, managed to keep the big guys, specifically CBS, from filling the gaping NFL hole on Sunday afternoons with Division I (i.e. high quality) college football games, as CBS had proposed to do through the NCAA.
ABC and CBS have a $263.5-million, four-year contract to broadcast Division I football to this country's 82 million TV homes, mostly on Saturdays. (The contract was recently struck down in federal court as an antitrust violation by the NCAA, but is valid while an appeal is heard.)
TBS has an $18-million, two-year contract to televise Division I leftovers, mostly on Saturday nights, to about 21 million cable-TV homes.
This gave Turner the right of approval to any changes, such as CBS' plan to switch games to Sunday -- which CBS wanted to do without losing any college-game opportunities on Saturday.
In other words, David, facing Goliath, got his hands on a big slingshot.
Wussler provided the response for Turner -- which also is planning to televise games between all-star teams composed of striking NFL players starting Oct. 10 over both the superstation and a makeshift commercial-station network that reportedly includes Channel 5 here in Washington. Wussler told the NCAA that old Goliath would have to meet certain conditions for TBS' approval, including:
* CBS and ABC would have to promise not to counterprogram the proposed, yet-to-get-through-the-courts all-star games that TBS plans to put on Sunday afternoons and Monday nights. (ABC was also considering Sunday college games, but only if it could persuade the most high-quality schools to switch dates, which it couldn't.)
* Turner would have to be given additional years on its two-year college contract -- a contract that ABC sued over, figuring the awarding of a cable contract violated the NCAA's agreement with the two over-the-air networks. CBS would have to tear up an out-of-court agreement it reached with Turner that required Turner not to go after college games in 1984 and 1985.
* The complex NCAA-network rules governing teams' appearances on television -- rules that pretty much insure TBS' schedule remains "supplementary" (i.e. second rate) -- would be relaxed to allow the cable network better choices.
"Obviously none of these were acceptable to us," said CBS Sports President Neal Pilson.
Wussler said TBS was also prepared to "boil it all down to money" and settle for a dollar amount from CBS.
"But that was an 'or,' " he said, "not an 'and.' "
Well, CBS didn't go for that, either. In fact, some at CBS this week were saying the Turner demands were totally outrageous.
"Come on," Wussler said. "It's business."
CBS' official response to TBS' "business" came in the form of its announcement Tuesday of a schedule of four regional football games from Division III (i.e. not-so-high quality, hence unregulated by the NCAA television committee).
So this Sunday afternoon, after a one-hour "NFL Today" at noon, we in Washington will get to see Baldwin-Wallace play Wittenberg in Springfield, Ohio. Pat Summerall and John Madden -- the guys who announced last January's Super Bowl, no less -- will call the shots, such as they are. Dick Stockton and Hank Stram will be on hand later in the afternoon when the University of San Diego meets Occidental.
"It certainly is hurting us," said Pilson, who had just drafted a letter of denial to NFLPA Executive Director Ed Garvey, who accused the networks of conspiring with the NFL to prolong a strike by paying for unplayed games. "Anyone can look at the ratings that substitute programming apparently is going to be generating, plus our inability to promote our fall prime-time programming as well as we would otherwise, with football."